Pension Outrage

Jim Henley notes an odd juxtaposition in American conservative thought:

This is a country whose elites can cry real tears about the pensions of Britons while regarding the pensions of American autoworkers as the next thing to a crime. While there is a real principle at stake in the difference, it’s not one you’re supposed to voice: Concern for British pensions is a way to keep powerful and connected people unaccountable for their actions; Auto worker pensions can only cost such people money.

This assessment is not only uncharitable but wrong.  Anti-union sentiment and sympathy for the free market is rather widespread in the American ethos; it’s hardly confined to the plutocratic class.

But the juxtaposition Jim cites is not only real but interesting.

The sneering over autoworker pensions is explainable in at least two ways.    First, it’s simply true that the massive benefits packages UAW negotiated with the Big 3 decades back put American auto companies at enormous competitive disadvantage with foreign firms without this burden.  That we’ve now had to engage in a public bailout of said companies turns that dispassionate observation into something less pleasant.    Second — and this is perhaps as uncharitable as Jim’s explanation — there’s real resentment from educated workers that relatively unskilled laborers were getting enormous salary and benefit packages through the coercive powers of the unions for so many years and, presumably, no small amount of schadenfreude at seeing the end of this.

I’m not sure how widespread the concern over British pensioners is here in the USA.  It’s a brand new topic that one presumes few Americans have given much thought to.  In my own case, I do think that the Brits complaining about Obama’s have gone out of his way to excoriate “British” Petroleum and otherwise talk down their stock prices — and yesterday’s shaming them into suspending dividend distributions is legitimate.   While investing a sixth of a country’s retirement accounts in a single company is madness, they have indeed done so.

FILED UNDER: General
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. PD Shaw says:

    The WP article appears to suggest that the British pensions are not defined benefits plans:

    “Smith estimated that if BP were to lose half its market value, a Briton about to retire could reasonably expect a decline of up to 3 percent in annual pension payments. “Those considering retirement in the next six months might be disappointed people when they realize the final amount of their retirement is less than hoped,” he said.”

    The complaint about the UAW pensions are that they are underfunded guaranteed benefits plans.

    Most of us are frustrated that the unions are negotiating benefits that the employers have little ability to meet and then both turn around and plea for money from the public that doesn’t have guaranteed benefit plans.

  2. john personna says:

    The answer to that question is easy. Too many people choose their side and then make up reasons after.

  3. grampagravy says:

    The phony concern for British pensions has nothing to do with foreign pensions or the recipients of those pensions. This is more of the same old “Obama can do no right” refrain that is so obvious and so lame that its proponents will excoriate Obama one day for not doing something and then raise hell the next day because he did it.

  4. drew says:

    Hey gampagrumpy –

    Nice straw man, but stop projecting, and remove his unit from your throat and get real.

    I can give you specific examples of what I think Obama has done right, and wrong. And on this BP issue is just a mess – based on the merits, not “Obama can do no right.”

    PD makes what I think is a crucial point. As for Mr Henley, he’s just jumping the gun and making an unwarranted assertion. More politics.

    As I point out elsewhere at OTB today, the shame here is the politics, and the abject failure of the government entities to be facilitative instead of turf conscious. I don’t expect Obama to put on his Diver Dan suit and go fix the well. I do expect him to lead and control the organization he purports to manage.

  5. grampagravy says:

    Hey Drew,
    Perhaps you are unaware that the first sentence in your response specific to me makes the rest of whatever you have to say sound like “blah blah blah.”

  6. steve says:

    “The sneering over autoworker pensions is explainable in at least two ways. First, it’s simply true that the massive benefits packages UAW negotiated with the Big 3 decades back put American auto companies at enormous competitive disadvantage with foreign firms without this burden.”

    You are a reasonable guy James. Explain sometime why this is only a union problem. Maybe I have worked in management too long, but I see management at least as culpable. I have to say no to my employees. Why didn’t they say no? Why is it blamed entirely on the unions?

    Steve

  7. kb says:

    “While investing a sixth of a country’s retirement accounts in a single company is madness, they have indeed done so.”

    Uh no they haven’t.

    BP dividends represent around 1/6th of all dividends paid out by companies in the FTSE-100 to pension funds.

    Which is completely different from 1/6th of all pensions funds investments are in BP shares.

  8. Franklin says:

    Obama’s have gone out of his way to excoriate “British” Petroleum

    In what way has he gone out of his way? Did the well belong to BP or not? I can’t figure out why you’re trying to pretend that BP is in no way responsible. I hardly blame Obama or anyone else for pointing out the obvious.

    This doesn’t seem to be a unique position around here. Apparently we’re not allowed to mention the company that is associated with this disaster, lest we’re contributing to the downfall of their stock prices. I really don’t get this line of reasoning or the motives behind it.

  9. wr says:

    Union-negotiated pensions are nothing more complicated than delayed salary payments. A company hires to work at so much money per hour (or year) now and so much at a point in the future. This isn’t a gift — it’s a contract.

    But for some reason, “conservatives” who worship at the altar of the contract when it comes to, say, a black person with a mortgage, magically find this particular contract is evil and corrupt and must be undone. There’s no moral component to a company’s written promises of payment to its workers. And somehow there’s always enough money to pay the CEO ten or tweny or one hundred million dollars at the same time pensions must be cut.

  10. grampagravy says:

    Franklin, the motives are simple.
    Holding BP publicly responsible for their negligence and incompetence attacks the entire “free market” myth.
    Making BP pay up puts stock prices and dividends in a bad way.
    The resulting moratorium on deep water drilling hurts investors across the oil industry-not just BP investors.
    Personifying “Oil Can Harry” this way makes it more difficult to push the slime under the rug and go back to business as usual–as has been done after every major oil disaster for decades now.

  11. drew says:

    grampgrumpy –

    Your inability to construct a coherent argument is duly noted.

  12. tom p says:

    James, first read this this morn, and found so many holes I could not believe you wrote this.

    “Antiunion sentiment and sympathy for the free market is rather widespread in the American ethos; it’s hardly confined to the plutocratic class.”

    In other words, getting fvcked by the corporate beauracracy is an American right. WE LIKE TAKING IT UP THE ASS.

    “First, it’s simply true that the massive benefits packages UAW negotiated with the Big 3 decades back put American auto companies at enormous competitive disadvantage with foreign firms without this burden. ”

    Uhhhh, not until we opened up our markets to cheap third world labor with “zero” gov’t oversight and no environmental protections and labor laws???????????? (small detail, I know)

    “Second — and this is perhaps as uncharitable as Jim’s explanation — there’s real resentment from educated workers that relatively unskilled laborers were getting enormous salary and benefit packages through the coercive powers of the unions for so many years and, presumably, no small amount of schadenfreude at seeing the end of this.”

    “there’s real resentment from educated workers ”

    Let me get a handle on this: “real resentment from educated workers”…

    ‘Class warfare”, your name is “James Joyner”. FVCK the so called “educted workers”. When was the last time they put in a full 10 hours in 100 degree heat? When was the last time they picked up anything more than a 21/2 pound file folder? You know what? I have worked people like you until their d*ck was dragging in the dirt… and I still had hours to go.

    yah… it is class warfare… and we are losing.

    “That we’ve now had to engage in a public bailout of said companies…”

    So how many “union workers” did we bail out at Goldman Sachs????

    In my own case, FVCK the British pensioners. They invested in a company they had no control over. Stupid is as stupid does.

    how many people complaioned about moral hazard when we bailed out GS? I bet these are the same people who complain about the owners of a certain petroleum company having to give uo their dividends.

    “n my own case, I do think that the Brits complaining about Obama’s have gone out of his way to excoriate “British” Petroleum and otherwise talk down their stock prices — and yesterday’s shaming them into suspending dividend distributions is legitimate. ”

    Corporate apologist, your name is JJ.

  13. Neil Hudelson says:

    Drew,

    A coherent argument like implying your opponent engages in fellatio?